Another Botanic Garden

Coudeberg, Pierre

Coudebergus, Petrus

Coudenberch, Peeter van

Coudenberg (Petrus)

Coudenberg (Pierre)

Coudenberg, Pieter

Coudenbergh, Peter

Coudenberghe, Peeter van

Coudenberghe, Peter

Coudenbergius, Petrus

Coundenberg (Pieter)


Koudenbergh, Pieter

are all the alternative spellings I have so far come across for this person:

I am going to go with Peeter van Coudenberghe, if only because this name is the one which appears on the back of his statue, in the Botanic Garden in Antwerp, which we visited recently. The first two days of our jaunt were passed in lovely Brugge, where we spent a lot of time, between the churches and museums, in trying to keep cool and hydrated – boat trips were out of the question, alas.

In Antwerp, which we had not visited for at least thirty years (a combination of the Offspring and the Zoo looms large in my memory), we went to some churches, and of course the two great houses, the Plantin-Moretus House and the Rubens House, both of which have got bigger (in terms of accessible rooms) since then. The only disappointment was that I had not realised, when we made the arrangements to go, that the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, which provided so many wonderful works for the ‘Titian to Rubens’ exhibition in Venice in 2019, has been closed for some time for refurbishment, opening again on 26 September. Still, it’s a good reason to go back …

And we visited the Botanic Garden (De Botaniek) on Leopoldstraat, which is free and open between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. in summer. It occupies quite small area close to the centre of the city, and has a large glasshouse/orangery, designed in 1884. Compared to many European botanic gardens, it is not very old, having been founded in 1825, though it had a previous existence in the eighteenth century as a teaching garden for the Ecole Centrale and as the herb and vegetable garden of the next-door St Elisabeth Hospital. (Disconcertingly, the garden overlooks the mortuary area of the hospital, with large numbers of big, black cars coming and going while we were there.)

This appears to be one of the custodians.

The end of July in a heatwave is rarely a good time to visit a garden, though I was a bit surprised at the general unkemptness of the place, which seems to be used by the citizens as a park as much if not more than as a research and study area. There are small systematic beds, with encouraging labels for large numbers of species tulips (completely invisible now, of course), a pond full of plants and wildlife, and some wonderful specimen trees. (I regret that we did not go into the glasshouse – it was just too hot.)

Erythrina crista-galli in the garden.
Local wildlife …
… and their habitat.
Some of the sculpture was less conventional than Coudenberghe’s statue.
The English version of the welcoming notice. What’s wrong with Belgian leeches?

But why, I hear you ask, is there a statue of a clearly sixteenth-century gentleman in the garden? Peeter van Coudenberghe was born (likely in Brussels) in about 1519, and died in Antwerp in 1599 – a very good age for a most turbulent period in the Low Countries. Not much seems to be known about his life, but he trained as an apothecary (according to this useful site, he was the fourth person to be registered as an apothecary in the state of Burgundy), and created a garden outside the city walls, first for herbs for his business. He later started collecting exotica – relatively easy to do when Antwerp was a major hub of world trade – and by 1571 had about 600 species. His plants were used as a resource by other botanists, and apparently he had planned to write a catalogue (or create a herbarium?), but tragically the siege of Antwerp in 1584–5 led to the destruction of his garden (and the death of a son), so perhaps (see below) this intention was never fulfilled.

Antwerp in 1572, showing formal as well as market gardens outside the walls.
During the siege of Antwerp, Alexander Farnese, duke of Parma, built a bridge of boats across the Scheldt to cut the city off from aid by sea.

However, he made an annotated version of the Dispensatorium pharmacorum of Valerius Cordus, (1515–44), the sadly short-lived German physician, botanist and apothecary, who probably died of malaria while visiting Rome. Many of Cordus’s unpublished works were edited by Conrad Gessner, who also mentions  Coudenberghe’s garden in his Horti Germaniae, and intriguingly refers to a catalogue – did he in fact create one after all?

Valerius Cordus, an ‘excellent physician’.
Under Tragoponon peregrinus (a name no longer recognised but presumably a species of salsify?), Gessner refers to a specimen shown to him by Coudenberghe, the ‘most celebrated herbalist in Antwerp’, and also says that Coudenberghe sent him a catalogue of his collection.

Cordus had given the manuscript of the Dispensatorium to the city council of Nuremberg on his way to Italy in 1543, and it was published there posthumously in 1546; Coudenberghe’s version (the first pharmacopoeia in Antwerp, allegedly) was published by Plantin in 1568, and there were subsequent editions in 1580 and 1599, the latter by Raphelengius in Leiden. Another version, retranslated into Latin, with further annotations by L’Obel, and a note on theriaca as an appendix, was published in Leiden by Johannes Maire in 1618.

All these cross-connections with the intellectual and scientific life of western Europe ought to be explored (but not by me, I can’t do the Flemish/Dutch part!). Another thing which doesn’t seem to exist, alas, is a contemporary image of Coudenberghe. The statue, by the sculptor Pierre-Joseph de Cuyper (1808–83) was subscribed for by the pharmacists of Antwerp and first placed in the City Park in 1861; it was moved to De Botaniek in 1869, as a memorial of the garden’s predecessor and of the first known botanist of the city. It is good to think that the (relatively) newly established Kingdom of Belgium was keen to commemorate its past in this way. And we must go back in the spring, to check out the species tulips as well as the reopened Royal Museum of Fine Arts.


This entry was posted in Belgium, Bibliography, Biography, Botany, Gardens, History, Museums and Galleries, Natural history, Printing and Publishing. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Another Botanic Garden

  1. Sue Roe says:

    Great blog-thank you


  2. Sandra says:

    Blessings on you, your curiosity, and your call to sharing your experiences and observations with others. I’m grateful to be one of those others. Sandra


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